Q&A with Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

The guest today on Reading Reality is Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy, author of several time-travel and historical romances, including today’s reviewed book, Guy’s Angel. I had the opportunity to ask her about her fascination with history, and her self-description as a “Rebel Writer”. Let’s see what she had to say.

First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself. You call yourself a “Rebel Writer”. Is there a story there?

Well, there is – two different stories, really.  Guy’s Angel is my 8th novel release from Rebel Ink Press so that’s one.  But the back story is that in my college years, my significant other at the time owned a Dodge Charger painted up like the famous “General Lee” of “Dukes of Hazzard” fame and we did a little presentation for our marketing class as a rock band, “The Rebels”.

Guy’s Angel takes place at a fascinating time, not just because of the “between the wars” but also because general aviation was just beginning “get its wings” so to speak. What made you pick this particular time period?

The 1920’s was my older set of grandparents’ (my grandparents are from two different generations depending on which side of the family) heyday, their youth and glory years.  I grew up on their stories and always loved anything about the 1920’s.

Who first introduced you to the love of reading?

My mom  read to me from a very early age and encouraged me to read as a child.

Who influenced your decision to become a writer?

My Granny – yes, the one who came of age in the 1920’s – once wanted to be a writer but circumstances prevented it.  She shared her dream with me when I was a teenager and told me, “I couldn’t but you can and you should.” And so I did.

And are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot everything out in advance, or do you just let the story flow?  

I’m mostly a pantser.  When I begin a new novel, I know where it begins and how it will end.  Everything in between just grows and happens.

Do your characters ever want to take over the story?

They do – and they’re like my kids.  They do what they want anyway!

You have written several stories that are historical or partially historical (In Love’s Own Time, Guy’s Angel, Long Live the King, and the upcoming In the Shadow of War). Where does your love of history come from?

I grew up in St. Joseph, MO, a old river town with a great deal of history.  And I grew up listening to the stories of my grandparents and other elder relatives so I always found myself fascinated by the past.  I grew up in a Victorian era house and in an old neighborhood where everything was very traditional.

I have to ask about Long Live the King. You wrote a time-travel fantasy romance about Elvis! Tell us a little about what inspired you?

Well, I love Elvis and his music.  I’ve made the trip to Graceland. And my aunt, who passed away after a very courageous battle with cancer in late 2010, adored Elvis.  She also encouraged me in my writing and so I wanted to do something as a tribute to her.  She’s the Janet the book is dedicated to – and at her funeral, the family opted to play Elvis music instead of traditional hymns!

Speaking of In the Shadow of War, would you like to tell us a little bit about it, or any of your other upcoming projects? 

I live in Neosho, Missouri which is where Camp Crowder, better known as the “real”Camp Swampy from the Beetle Bailey comic strip was located. Part of it remains as a National Guard base but there’s also a community college and a lot more.  So I became intrigued with the history and my other grandparents came of age during World War II so I wanted for a long time to write a romance in that era.  In The Shadow of War is it.    My next historical after it will be Dustbowl Dreams out Sept 17 from Rebel Ink Press and it’s set in 1930’s Oklahoma.  It’s inspired in part by Charley Floyd, better known as Pretty Boy Floyd, who makes a cameo appearance in the novel.

What book do you recommend everyone should read and why?  

Oh, wow, hard question.  I’d have to say the first adult novel I ever read, at a young age, Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  It’s far from perfect but it has it all, romance, war, intrigue, betrayal, angst, joy.

Morning person or Night Owl?

Night Owl.

Lee Ann, us night owls have got to stick together! Thanks so much for answering all my questions. I love the idea of playing with history, and I’ll admit, the Elvis book fascinates me. The “what if?” questions are always the interesting ones. And it sounds like fun!

Guy’s Angel

Guy’s Angel by LeeAnn Sontheimer Murphy is a love story. A man named Guy Richter falls in love with a young woman named Lorraine Ryan. But this love story is only possible because it’s also a love triangle. But not the usual kind of triangle, because the third party in this triangle isn’t a person–it’s the love of flying.

The year is 1925, and flying was still new. There was no TSA. Heck, there wasn’t even an FAA. Pilots weren’t licensed. Most pilots in the US were men who had been trained by the U.S. Army in World War I and managed to survive both the war and the influenza epidemic of 1919.

Automobiles were still in the process of driving horse-drawn vehicles off the road. Flying machines were a pretty chancy business.

And a lot of the pilots were suffering from what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They just called it shell-shock. Or not being able to get over the war. Or being crazy. Or having nightmares.

In 1925, “Lucky” Charles Lindbergh’s around the world flight hadn’t happened yet.

Guy Richter, the hero of Guy’s Angel, is one man who suffers from shell-shock and who has more than his share of difficulty leaving his war behind. He survived the air battles over Europe, only to lose his brother Jimmie in the peace. And Guy believes that he should have died.  He only lives to fly.

Until Lorraine comes to the airfield to learn to fly. And he sees her as his “Angel”.

In 1925, women did not become pilots. Amelia Earhart wasn’t famous yet. Or lost, for that matter. Women’s roles were proscribed. But Guy decides to rescue “Angel” from the taunting of the other men at the airfield, possibly out of boredom.

But once he takes her up into the sky, in his tiny two-seater plane, he can see that she is just as bitten by the flying bug as any man. And that she’s just as much a natural in the sky. Guy agrees to teach her to fly.

His “Angel” gives him a reason to look forward, and stop looking back. But can she learn enough, about flying and about Guy’s past, to save his life?

Escape Rating B+: There were elements in Guy’s Angel that I absolutely loved. The historical aspects were terrific. Ms. Murphy invoked the flavor of the 1920s spectacularly well. The pace of life, the way that people talked, the atmosphere, the clothes, it felt right.

The relationship between Guy and Angel proceeded just a tiny bit too smoothly. He had a LOT of demons. And he should have. The age gap between them, while not significant in actual numbers (7 years), because of his war experience was fairly large. It seemed too easy to me.

The question in my mind at the end was about whether everyone who said they saw the Valkyries really saw the Valkyries. And whether the Valkyries really were out to get Guy and carry him off to Valhalla. Because if they were, that almost pushed this book into a whole other category. If he merely thought they were, it’s still his PTSD talking. But so many other people also claimed to see them, which made me wonder.